I have an appointment to get my hair cut and colored this week. I go every 8 weeks, begrudgingly. I know some women enjoy their time sitting in the stylist chair, but I’m not one of them. I’d rather be sitting in a cozy chair in my living room with a good book, hiking in the mountains near Asheville or hanging out with a friend sipping on a glass of cabernet.
I started getting my hair colored about 10 years ago. I never planned on doing it. It just happened one day when my stylist at the time convinced me that it would help with the texture. I have a lot of hair that can get very frizzy, and I could never figure out how to manage it. Coloring changed that. My hair was smooth for the first time in my life. So, my previous one- hour stint at the hair salon turned into over two hours (and I didn’t even get highlights), and of course the price nearly doubled too.
What started as a way to tame my frizzy hair, has morphed into what, for me, has become a dreaded ordeal. It’s not only the 2-3 hour salon visits every 8 weeks (yes, it now takes closer to 3 hours since the gray has become more resistant and takes more time to process, plus my hair takes forever to dry) but also the daily ritual of having to cover my roots with gray away 10 days after I get it colored. At one point I was doing a couple of root cover up processes in between the stylist appointments but stopped that a few months ago. You see I’ve always been a chemical free kind of gal, (paraben free, essential oil only scented cleaning products, laundry detergent and skin care products.) I don’t even use scented cat litter. My Mom always insisted simple and natural was better and living in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 80s re-enforced my desire to live chemical free. I just got to the point where I couldn’t justify adding extra toxins to my scalp on a routine basis when I call hotels in advance and ask them not to spray air freshener in my room.
I’ve never gone the Botox route either. Can’t imagine injecting that chemical mix into my body. I’m not saying it hasn’t been tempting to smooth the fine lines. Especially when I look around me and see so many women sporting wrinkle-free faces. I even tested out the prospect when I went for my annual dermatology appointment to have my moles looked at last year. I asked the dermatologist what she thought about Botox, and she said I didn’t need it. That was a shock. I thought for sure she would at least try to sell me a starter package. Granted I’ve been told I look young for my age and have good skin (I have a darker, oily complexion) but I know I have wrinkles and don’t look like I did in my 30s.
That brings me to a conversation I had with a new colleague, a psychologist I met at a networking event in Asheville recently. We were excitedly sharing life experiences (work, her recent move from NYC to Asheville, and women’s empowerment stuff). For some reason I assumed she was in her 30s and she picked up on it and asked me “how old do you think I am?” I said I thought she was in her 30s and she told me she was 44. She said she thought I was her age. We both realized what had just happened. We had made assumptions based on our looks. Craziness. Two empowered women in the business of empowering other women caught up in unintentional ageism.
That conversation really got me thinking. As I’ve been coating my roots each time I get ready to attend a meeting or a holiday gathering, I’m feeling the absurdity of it. My dilemma/conflict has intensified since I’m spending a lot of time working from home in my yoga pants with my dog sitting beside me. I put on makeup and cover my roots if I’m on a Zoom meeting (that is seeming more ludicrous each time I go through the motion), especially since I typically play with my dog in the mud or leaves outside in between meetings.
I’m just starting to wonder why I’m still doing it when it makes more sense to stop than continue. I recognize the answer is complicated. How do I feel about letting go of my youthful appearance, the comments that I look so young for my age? What will it be like to actually look my age– to be categorized as a 56-year-old woman (about to turn 57)? Technically I’m past middle age. I am not one of these women who spends a lot of time looking in the mirror, but what am I going to see when I do? I say that I don’t think about getting older, but will I now? Has the ritual of masking the gray been masking any feelings about my age? What should I be feeling?
Society gives us such mixed messages. Ageing has become taboo, unnatural, bad, wrong. Women who are wrinkle free, workout at 5 AM every morning, have six pack abs and wear super stylish clothes at all times are on pedestals. Have I bought into this on some level (other than the waking up at 5 am to workout)? The fact that I’m struggling with going gray indicates I might have. I still have days when I think I should be spending more time in an office instead of my yoga pants. The beauty of being 56 and having taken the time to work from home is that I am not judging myself as much as I used to. It’s giving me the freedom to begin cultivating the real me.
I’ve had a lot of adventures and taken many risks in my 56 years. This one doesn’t involve getting on a plane, starting a new business, zip-lining across canyons or learning a new language. This is the real deal– being genuinely, authentically me.